MARAWI CITY: The Marawi crisis may worsen over reports that Maranaos displaced by the current conflict were being told allegedly by the Ulama Council to return to their homes here in Lanao del Sur’s capital city by July 24 or July 27.
The Ulama Council is composed of Muslim scholars and religious leaders.
Local leaders and clerics confirmed the reports but did not issue any statement for fear that this may cause civil unrest among the Maranaos.
A Muslim cleric warned that it would be “suicide” if not only the Maranaos but also other civilians heeded the call to go back to Marawi City.
Their return to city, according to the cleric, may ignite civil unrest and eventually bolster the presence there of the Islamic State or IS under whose flag the local terrorist Maute Group is battling the Philippine military.
“Marawi City has long been designated by the Islamic communities as dar al salaam [place of peace]and it has remained as it is even as the Maute Group has declared jihad [holy war]in their homeland,” Abu Jihad (not his real name), told The Manila Times.
“Once the poor civilians are dealt with wrongly, it may break [the peace]like what happened in Syria and no other than the IS will benefit from it,” the Muslim cleric said.
He added that local and national leaders, particularly Muslim government officials and other clerics, should unite and settle their differences peacefully to save the Maranaos and Marawi City.
A source of The Manila Times said leaders decided recently to order all Maranaos to “march together” to the ravaged city because “no one can guarantee” when they can return.
“We cannot take it anymore. Our houses are being looted if not destroyed while we are away. The government and other humanitarian groups also cannot feed us forever,” the source said of his apparent decision to heed the call to return to the city.
The government war against the local terrorist Maute Group fighting under the IS banner has entered its eighth week, ruling out the safe return of affected civilians.
Since fighting broke out on May 23, more than 200,000 dislocated Marawi residents have not returned to their homes.
Ten percent of the city population are being sheltered at evacuation centers while majority are staying with their relatives in various places in Mindanao and in Manila without any means of livelihood.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines said government troops are doing their best to meet the new deadline set by President Rodrigo Duterte to regain the city from the Maute Group bandits between July 21 and July 26.
Previous self-imposed deadlines have not been met.
Even if parts of Marawi City have been regained from the terrorists, hundreds of buildings in the eastern part of the city still need to be cleared, Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, Joint Task Force Marawi spokesman, said.
Another official in the Western Mindanao Command appealed to the civilians to remain calm as soldiers “are doing their jobs 24-7” for the safe return of the residents.
Zia Alonto Adiong, Marawi City Crisis Management Committee spokesman, pleaded to the government to be aggressive in providing humanitarian assistance to the victims of the conflict.